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EASTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella magna) GUIDANCE FOR CONSERVATION
The Eastern Meadowlark is a declining breeder and uncommon migrant
in hayfields and grasslands in the Hudson River Valley.
Conservation Status
Breeding Bird Survey data indicate a drastic decline in Eastern
Meadowlark populations in New York since 1966. Partners in Flight lists
this species as Regional Concern in Bird Conservation Regions13 and 28.
New York Breeding Bird Atlas data show a significant reduction in
distribution in the Hudson River Valley, particularly in the south.
J. Nadler
Identification
Eastern Meadowlarks use elevated perches
This species, a member of the blackbird family, is a stocky, medium-sized for singing.
bird, with a short tail. It has bright yellow underparts, a black v-shaped
breast band, streaky brown upperparts, white outer tail feathers, long
pinkish legs and a long, sharp-looking bill. It has a beautiful song
consisting of a series of 2–8 pure, flutelike whistles, often slurred
together and descending in pitch.
Habitat
It is most common in moderately tall grasslands and pastures, but also in hay and alfalfa fields, weedy borders
of croplands, roadsides, orchards, golf courses, airports, shrubby overgrown fields, or other open areas. It
must have elevated song perches, such as small trees, shrubs, or fence posts.
Food
It feeds mainly on insects and invertebrates including crickets, grasshoppers and worms, but it also eats berries
and seeds. It forages on the ground, among vegetation, and by probing beneath the soil.
Nesting
The female starts several nests before choosing one to finish. The nest is situated in a small scrape on the
ground or in a shallow depression and is well-hidden in dense vegetation. It is a cup with a dome-shaped roof
interwoven with adjoining grasses with a side entrance. Nests are found in pastures, meadows, hay fields, or
other grassland habitat, less often in cultivated fields.
Threats
•Loss of habitat due to development.
•Loss of habitat due to reforestation or succession from abandoned farmland into woodlots.
•Destruction of nests, young, and incubating adults due to mowing of hayfields during the breeding season and
spring surface tillage for weed-control.
•Trampling of nests by livestock.
•Depredation of eggs and nestlings by foxes, domestic cats and dogs, coyotes, snakes, skunks, raccoons, or
other small mammals.
•Although uncommon in the northeast, parasitization of nests by Brown-headed Cowbirds is a concern.
EASTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella magna) GUIDANCE FOR CONSERVATION
Management Recommendations
•Increase acreage of pasture, hay fields, and grasslands (50 acres or more is ideal), rather than several
smaller fields, as predation by mammals and snakes and parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds are lower
in large fields with more interior habitat than in small fields.
•Avoid disturbance of suitable habitat (e.g., mowing) during the breeding season, April 1 to end of July;
ideally mowing should be done every 3–5 years.
•Maintain a variety of cover heights for feeding, loafing, roosting, and nesting; a rotational system of low
intensity grazing helps to maintain diversity of cover height and density.
•Do not intensively graze, which tramples nests and vegetation and removes the vegetative cover hiding
nests and discourages nesting and foraging (e.g., graze no more than 1 cow/per acres, and not
rotationally).
•Limit the encroachment of woody vegetation into pastures, hayfields and other grasslands. Remove
woody vegetation within and along the periphery of grassland fragments to discourage predators from
using the woody vegetation as travel corridors and to enlarge the amount of interior grassland.
•Maintain a complex of burned and unburned habitats to provide a variety of grassland habitat types.
•Conduct prescribed burns in late spring on warm-season grasses to eliminate or reduce competition by
cool-season grasses and weeds.
M. Morgan
Grassland habitat in NY
Adapted from Lanyon 1995 and NatureServe 2008.
For additional information, see the following references:
Bollinger, E. K. 1995. Successional changes and habitat selection in hayfield bird communities. Auk 112:720730. http://elibrary.unm.edu/sora/Auk/v112n03/p0720-p0730.pdf.
Hull, S. D. 2003. Effects of management practices on grassland birds: Eastern Meadowlark. Northern Prairie
Wildlife Research Center, Jamestown, ND. Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Online.
http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/literatr/grasbird/eame/eame.htm
Lanyon, W. E. 1995. Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole,
ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:
http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/160
NatureServe. 2008. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.0.
NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available http://www.natureserve.org/explorer. (Accessed:
Roseberry, J. L., W. D. Klimstra. 1970. The nesting ecology and reproductive performance of the Eastern
Meadowlark. Wilson Bulletin. 82: 243–267. http://elibrary.unm.edu/sora/Wilson/v082n03/p0243-p0267.pdf.
Schroeder, R. L., and P. J. Sousa. 1982. Habitat Suitability Index Models: Eastern Meadowlark.
http://www.nwrc.usgs.gov/wdb/pub/hsi/hsi-029.pdf
EASTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella magna) GUIDANCE FOR CONSERVATION
NYS BREEDING BIRD ATLAS COMPARATIVE DATA